Just think of the love put into making this paper cut to commemorate 150 years of the CICM missionaries. Not one paper cut was made. . . no, each of us received one paper cut beautifully framed on a scroll, the way a Chinese painting would be framed. This too is an art. I appreciate the intricacies involved, the expenses incurred, the sacrifices made. Every cut is precisely made so that the result be pleasing. Praise God!
Come 25 August, all of us will meet to share again our joys, our thoughts, and certainly, to share on how the graces of the pilgrimage continue to flow, flow, flow. Our Lord is generous, abundantly so, and who can outdo Him? Banish any thought of doing anything too big for the One who first loved us. To desire to serve Him is itself His gift. Praise God!
After the visit to St Benedict’s Church we went a little distance away and visited the graves of a few CICM missionaries. The scene that I saw moved me in a special way. A life well lived. A life surrendered to serve God. A life not wasted but well spent. So many thoughts crossed my mind. No words were uttered. We were all preoccupied. No explanation was necessary.
We had been informed by our Spiritual Director Fr Anthony CICM that they were expected to remain in the country they had been sent to evangelise. No one expected to go home until ten years later, but many died whilst on mission. There were priests as young as 27. They remained buried there. On this trip, we visited several sites and thanked God for the early missionaries including the numerous Jesuits and Franciscans who had surrendered their lives to the Lord.
How poignant it was! A few graves on a seemingly desolate piece of land. But the animals came and with them was a lone shepherd. My thoughts went to several passages in the Bible and I thought especially of that first Christmas night. The shepherds were the first to receive the message of the Incarnation.
I also thought of the fragility of life. The words of Job came to mind. . . yes, it was easy enough to be reflective and silent. My own thoughts kept me company. There was little I wished to say to anyone else. Surely my other companions had thoughts of their own.
The photo belows shows the young priest who was responsible for making all the connections in the five dioceses that we visited during our trip. He was instrumental in making our trip so memorable, and we all loved him. He was truly a servant, serving the Lord without reservation. We heard his vocation story and we thank God for the gift of Fr Matthew!
Today on the feast of St Benedict, the priest at mass spoke of the legacy the great saint had left us. I wish to share on a visit to the church named after St Benedict in Inner Mongolia. It was on 28 June 2012 when we arrived in Hohhot. Look at the photo above. There we were, travelling in our bus. The weather throughout our trip of fourteen days had remained kind. On this day we learnt that some much needed rain had been falling for three days, but had stopped on the day we arrived. So we were moving along ground that was both muddy and difficult to travel along.
While the majority of my companions in the bus were taking their forty winks, I was preoccupied and rather anxious, I have to confess, and I constantly held my breath as I feared the wheels of our bus would get stuck. Several years ago, in Kenya, while trying to see the flamingoes, our little van had got stuck in black mud and we had had to summon help. Here in Hohhot we were in a big bus with 29 people, and I could not see how we would be able to push the vehicle, if necessary. Perhaps our Lord was trying to teach me a valuable lesson. Where is your faith, my child? My friend and I took out our rosaries and started to pray . . .
Finally we made it and we all cheered as we saw the parishioners of St Benedict’s Church (1902)waiting for us. They had waited for a long time as our journey had taken more time than expected. Once I got off the bus, I shook the hands of fellow Catholics standing nearby. Two elders of the church were firing fire crackers as a sign to welcome us. I felt overwhelmed. I returned the many warm smiles. It was, as one of my fellow travellers said, almost like home coming. Here we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord, and in the many churches we went to, the reception was always heartwarming. As I mentioned to one of the four bishops we met, I shed many tears throughout the trip - tears of joy and gratitude, tears of thanksgiving to our Lord.
At St Benedict’s Church my tears flowed profusely. I can say that I was not the only person moved to tears. It was not sadness that caused me to cry. It was not the poverty that I saw. I gazed upon our Lord in the tabernacle and I just cried and cried and cried. I looked at the painting of Divine Mercy and I cried again. Here you are, dearest Lord, here you are present with your people whom you love. Here you are, and blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of God! Yes, I was moved because I experienced God’s presence so powerfully. It was so on many occasions. The Good Shepherd was leading us.
See the warm smiles as these Catholic brothers and sisters of ours knelt down to pray. Later when I went to kneel beside them and asked for a photograph to be taken, my tears started to flow again, profusely. The lady in the black looked at me and smiled. I had to explain that I was feeling overwhelmed. I also shared with her that I had been thinking if we would ever arrive at the church. In trying to explain the situation, may I suggest that one thinks of an enormous piece of land with no borders, no visible horizon. . . and one is like an ant, walking on and on. That was how I saw our bus travelling as our two young drivers did their utmost to take the right path. We were not even travelling on proper roads then. . . just tracks in no man’s land!
For sure, my thoughts also went to the early missionaries. How did they do it? There was no way for them to go except forward. In the wilderness, one had little choice. So I saw how strong faith in God must be. So many of the early missionaries were promised home leave after ten years, but how many of them made it? We visited some graves and learnt that many died within a few short years, stricken by disease or killed by locals. Lord, have mercy!
I visited the columbarium at the Church of the Holy Spirit one morning and experienced a deep sense of peace. I told myself that if I ever needed total physical silence, this would be a good place to stay for a while. I was all alone and all around me were the ashes of the faithful departed. I looked around and prayed for all the souls. Then I went round a second time and I stopped before certain niches to remember these special people. I went before my mother’s niche and thanked God for giving her eternal life. She was the first Catholic in my family. Praise God!
Then I went to a very exclusive area and there were the niches of a few CICM priests. They gave their lives to serve as missionaries. In a very special way I wish to remember them for the Scheut Missions was founded in 1862 for the conversion of China. This year marks the 150th year of the founding of the CICM – Congregation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. When the priests were expelled from China, they came to Singapore. Thank God for every one of them. Thank God for the priests who are still serving here.
Father Theophile Verbist, the Founder of CICM said: “The specific goal of the CICM is to commit itself entirely to the proclamation of the Good News wherever a missionary presence is most needed, especially among the peoples where the Gospel is not known or lived” I heard from a friend who had gone on several trips to evangelise in rural parts of China how difficult the circumstances were, but she is happy and will continue to go as she knows that the Good News is being proclaimed to people truly hungry for it. She is not the only one who longs to share the Good News. . . they need the support of our prayers to persevere and to remain faithful to their calling.
Fr Verbist is also known to have said: “To him who loves, nothing is difficult.” Yes, it is true. There is no labour where there is true love. My friend shared with me how poorly the people ate each day. She shared the same and for her that was tough as there were times when the meal was only a hard cold bun. (I remember having seen such buns when I went to a CICM mission house in Mongolia.) One day my friend was told that she would be visiting the bishop and so, jokingly she told her friends that she would probably have a better meal. To her surprise, she found that the Bishop lived under more miserable conditions, and the food that they had that day was even less palatable. She was deeply moved seeing how many sacrifices the shepherd of the flock was making.
So, it is true that where there is true love, there is no labour. My friend has many more trips planned and she wil continue to go where there are opportunities to share the Good News. This reminds me of what a priest from Sri Lanka said: evangelisation is really one beggar telling another where there is food. Yes, we need to share the food that will lead us to eternal life. May God bless all missionaries!